Posts Tagged ‘Oscars’

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Movie Reviews: American Sniper, Boyhood, How To Train Your Dragon 2

February 4, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Director: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven)

Bottom Line: I’ve heard that this story is quite embellished by Hollywood, but since I’m unfamiliar with Chris Kyle’s story, I can only judge the movie as a movie – and I liked it quite alright. Bradley Cooper gives another stellar and nuanced performance and, along with his awesome voice acting in last year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, has cemented himself as one of the industry’s top leading men. Clint Eastwood’s direction is as crisp and tense as it has ever been, even if this might not be his greatest film. I also found it interesting how underdeveloped Chris’ family is in the movie – perhaps a fitting scenario for active military during wartime. Overall, I enjoyed American Sniper, but it’s not the first movie I would think of for Best Picture and is probably a tad overrated in general.

Replay Value: I’m somewhat interested in reading Chris Kyle’s book and if that happens, I almost certainly will watch the movie again. Even so, it’s probably worth another watch.
Sequel Potential: It would be highly disrespectful, but Hollywood has done worse things.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 6 Oscars: Best Picture and Best Actor, plus Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay, and Sound Editing.
Nudity: Can’t remember – I don’t think so.

Grade: 6.5/10 (Strongly Recommended)

BOYHOOD

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater (School Of Rock, Waking Life, Dazed And Confused)

Bottom Line: Highly praised by critics and blasted by many as being overly boring and too long, Boyhood falls somewhere in the middle. It’s hard not to appreciate director Richard Linklater’s ambitious decision to film his story over 12 years in real time and it’s interesting to watch the kids grow up on screen. The script tackled themes of broken homes, divorce, moving around a lot, alcoholism, peer pressure, bullying, teen angst, young love – and heartbreak – experimentation, and moving on (to college or elsewhere) – and the affect all of that has on growing up – quite well. Even if it doesn’t reflect one’s own childhood exactly, I can’t imagine not being able to relate to Mason’s story in a lot of ways. However, while Mason’s transition from a naive youngster to angst-filled and too-cool-for-school teen may reflect many of today’s youth, that doesn’t make it particularly interesting. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette give pretty good performances here, but at the end of the day, Boyhood is a merely good, not great film.

Replay Value: Definitely a weakness. Even the people that loved it probably weren’t lining up to see it again.
Sequel Potential: Unlikely, but… Richard Linklater has a history of putting out unlikely sequels with his Before Sunrise franchise.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 6 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Linklater, acting noms for Arquette and Hawke, plus Editing. This is probably the favorite for Best Picture even though it’s far from my favorite 2014 film – particularly because I think the script is not all that awesome – but I do think Linklater has a good chance at Best Director and editing a 12 year epic seems like a good way to get a statue also.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 6.5/10 (Strongly Recommended)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Kit Harrington
Director: Dean Deblois (How To Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch)

Bottom Line: A mostly boring sequel to a pretty good original film that is overshadowed by a solid, feel-good ending that will leave most watchers thinking it was better than it really was.

Replay Value: Since I never watched the original again, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever see this again — until I have kids (and then I better damn well get used to it!).
Sequel Potential: #3 is due out in 2017 or 2018 and it sounds like this franchise could go deep.
Oscar Potential: Somehow got nominated for Best Animated Feature while The Lego Movie did not. What?
Nudity: None.

Grade: 5/10 (Watchable)

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Gravity (2013)

October 12, 2013

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director: Alfonso Cuaron (Children Of Men, Harry Potter & The Prison Of Azkaban, Y Tu Mama Tambien)

Astounding. Incredible. Those were my initial thoughts upon leaving the theater after watching Gravity, one of those groundbreaking films that will be mentioned for years to come as a visual effects pioneer. In fact, visually, Gravity just might be the most incredible accomplishment in cinematic history. It’s that good; and there’s never been anything like it. The film feels more like a 95 minute attraction you’d find at a high level amusement park. The only things missing are the seat belts and simulated movement. Otherwise, you might as well be in space with Ryan Stone, the rookie astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the best performance I’ve ever seen from her. There are no moments in this film where you’re taken out of the experience. Everything is so wonderfully, beautifully, and accurately shot that you never question that these people are operating in zero gravity. Little touches like chess pieces and tear drops floating out of the screen towards you only add to the authentic, weightless movements of the human characters. The 3D seriously adds to the experience and I can’t imagine that seeing it without 3D is even remotely as satisfying.

The story here isn’t particularly profound. As one of my friends who walked out after an hour so eloquently put it: “one hour of running out of oxygen.” It really makes me wonder if we were watching the same movie. The visuals are so stunning, earth looks so magnificent in the background, and the film is so intense, that one hardly even notices how little plot there actually is here. And honestly, in a film like Gravity, it’s not that important. The overall themes of dealing with loss, lack of self worth, and so on, take a back seat to the real show: the terrifying experience of being lost in space with absolutely no human contact and no solid game plan for survival. Could you imagine being so utterly alone? In Gravity you barely have to. It looks so real and the experience is so personal, it might as well be your own.

Gravity should be showered with nominations come award season and should be a shoo in for most of the visual awards. Alfonso Cuaron has directed the closest thing to a masterpiece that I’ve seen in a long while. The amount of care put into the shooting of this film and the attention to detail is so tediously given, the final product is astonishing. A true feat. For a film that’s essentially about getting from point A to point B without dying, I’ve never felt so personally invested in reaching that final destination. An extremely impressive film and an absolute must see in 3D in the theaters.

Replay Value: The lack of replay value might keep Gravity from becoming a true classic, but with 3D televisions more and more common these days, maybe that’s not true.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Gravity will be heavily nominated, probably in most categories, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director. I doubt the script will get a nomination and I don’t think George Clooney is deserving, but this film should be a cinch for the Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Film Editing statues.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 9.5/10 (Phenomenal/Instant Classic)

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Flight (2012)

April 7, 2013

Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Quick Thoughts: Flight hit home for me a bit. Being an alcoholic myself–one that has been sober for nearly three years now–I couldn’t help but relate to the path of self-destruction that Denzel Washington’s character Whip Whitaker had created for himself: the complete lack of self-control, the walls his family has put up, the delusion, the denial. Of course, the decision to make this character the pilot of a major airline makes his story worthy of a film. Watching the movie, I was wondering how much of it was based in reality. Was it a true story? The answer is… not really. While Whip’s decision to invert the plane during the incredible flight and crash sequence was inspired by true events, the character of Whip Whitaker himself is a figment of screenwriter John Gatins’ imagination–or more likely, a loose translation of someone the writer actually knows.

This is one of those films where the hero is quite the opposite. There’s no protagonist in this movie. I can’t imagine too many people rooting for Whip Whitaker. He’s despicable. Aside from his alcoholism, he also abuses drugs, womanizes, and is generally crude and overbearingly filthy in his diction. Perhaps we want to see him sink so low that he finally sees and admits the errors of his ways, but that’s it. About 90 minutes into the movie, I turned to my girlfriend and said: “This movie can’t possibly have a happy ending.” There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this person.

While I found Flight to be entertaining–seriously, the flight sequence is jaw-dropping–and the best depiction of alcoholism since Leaving Las Vegas, I did walk away with some serious questions. Whip’s flight crew is all too familiar with his antics. He’s sleeping and partying with one of his flight attendants (a fellow substance abuser) and it appears this is no secret to the rest of the crew, particularly a devoutly religious woman that has known Whip for years. My question is, knowing who this man is, why on earth would these people get on a plane that he’s flying? I understand enabling and co-dependent relationships–believe me–but I can’t understand constantly putting your own life and lives of passengers in immediate danger. This man is piloting planes drunk while reeking of vodka (as his co-pilot later points out). Who in their right mind is letting that happen? Also curious, Whip’s toxicology report comes back with a .24 BAC after landing the plane, getting extracted from the wreckage, and possibly transported to a hospital. In other words, during the crash, Whip was probably sporting a BAC over .3, which is well into black out territory. Of course, this is the portrait of a “functioning” alcoholic, but come on. And… my comments on the ending I will post below*.

Despite these concerns, I was still pleased with Flight and thought it tackled alcoholism quite well. The crash sequence is legendary and Denzel Washington gives another great performance.

Replay Value: Worth watching again for sure.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Denzel received an acting nomination and Gatins a writing nomination. Surprisingly, the visual effects team was snubbed.
Nudity: Quite a bit during the opening sequence.
Grade: 7/10 (Must See)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 79% Audience: 76%
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

Recommendation: Highly recommended, especially to those who have dealt with alcoholism in their lives.

SPOILERS:

I felt like this movie couldn’t possibly have a happy ending and while I suppose I was satisfied with the way things wrapped up, I didn’t really buy it either. Whip Whitaker ultimately breaks down and admits the truth of his alcoholism–a scene that brought tears to my eyes–right on the brink of lying his way to freedom during his testimony. All he has to do is tell one more lie and he can go right on living his destructive life. So what sparked his change of heart? He has the perfect alibi: the woman he spent the night with before the crash has passed away, she’s a known alcoholic, and he can say that she drank the two bottles of vodka that had been found in the wreckage. But instead, he admits that he drank those bottles and suffers all the punishments that come with that admittance. Why? Do we really believe this man, that has chosen alcohol over the relationships of anyone close to him–wife and son included–would choose this moment to come clean? Presumably to protect the honor of a dead woman he had a casual sexual relationship with? I’m sorry, but this would never happen in real life. Alcoholics are incredibly selfish people and I really believe that 100% of alcoholics in that situation would choose to lie and protect their freedom. Perhaps the close call with extensive jail time would be enough to spark a change, but Whip Whitaker doesn’t take the fall there. Ever.

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Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

March 24, 2013

Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz
Director: Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Evil Dead, Spider-Man 3)

Quick Thoughts: There is way too much green screen going on in Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful and the result is the film looks more like Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland than James Cameron’s Avatar and that’s not a good thing. You certainly don’t feel immersed in the land of Oz; it all looks quite fake. The acting does little to add to the believability, as four Oscar and Golden Globe nominees all do a great job of not taking their roles too seriously… and maybe they shouldn’t. But still, I don’t want to see Michelle Williams or Mila Kunis hamming it up. Having seen the Broadway version of Wicked last year, I know there is a way to continue The Wizard Of Oz story in a way that can still be embraced in 2013. I’ll take Elphaba’s origin story over this mess any day.

Replay Value: I’ll probably never watch it again… but it might have a little value here.
Sequel Potential: As a prequel to The Wizard Of Oz, obviously this property has plenty of legs.
Oscar Potential: There’s a chance for some art direction and make-up love, but I have a feeling this movie will be long forgotten come Oscar season.
Nudity: None.
Grade: 4.5/10 (watchable/wait for Red Box)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 61% Audience: 66%
IMDB Rating: 6.9/10

Recommendation: A pretty cheesy offering. I didn’t see the 3D version so maybe the film looks spectacular that way; I doubt it though. I was excited for this movie but I lost interest before we even made it to Oz. All in all, a moderately painful experience.

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

March 3, 2013

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver
Director: David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings)

Quick Thoughts: David O. Russell follows up The Fighter with another powerful film in Silver Linings Playbook. This film tackles mental disorders and broken relationships, but is still a love story at its core. Russell seems to have a knack for coaxing great performances out of his casts. After earning three acting nominations for The Fighter, the Silver Linings Playbook cast managed four. De Niro gives his best effort in at least ten years, Lawrence cements her status as the best young actress in the business, and Cooper is shockingly awesome. Truly, in most years without a Daniel Day Lewis movie, Cooper deserves an Oscar. The material handled here could easily be presented in an annoying fashion, but the cast makes it work…wonderfully. The end result is a sweet and troubled love story, the kind of which a man shouldn’t have to be dragged to the theater to see.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Worthy of owning.
Sequel Potential: None…however, Lawrence and Cooper have signed on to Russel’s next project, along with Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, and Amy Adams. Holy crap.
Oscar Potential: A Best Actress win for Lawrence (the first of many?), nominations for Cooper, De Niro, Weaver, Russell, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Nudity: I don’t recall, but Seth MacFarlane noted at The Oscars: “and Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs we haven’t seen at all.”
Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 92% Audience: 88%
IMDB Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: A fantastic movie featuring great performances. A love story both sides of a couple should appreciate.

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In Bruges Review

February 15, 2009

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’ve seen In Bruges on a couple of top ten lists and nominated for a couple of awards, including the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. I wasn’t too excited about it, however, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The plot about a couple of hitmen having to flee to Bruges because of a botched murder didn’t exactly reek of hilarity or originality to me. It didn’t help matters much that the first 20-30 minutes of the movie were boring enough for my girlfriend and best friend to quit watching it. I wasn’t exactly intrigued either, but I didn’t want stop watching it and hold onto it for several months instead of sending it back to Netflix, so I stuck it out… and I’m glad I did.

If you can stick out your initial boredom, you’ll actually find yourself watching a pretty funny film that is highlighted by the best performance of Colin Farrell’s career. I’m going to go ahead and spoil something that I don’t think is that important by saying that the characters of Farrell and Brendan Gleeson find themselves in Bruges because Farrell has accidentally killed a child while assassinating a priest and his boss (played fantastically by Ralph Fiennes) intends to give him one last vacation before his partner is to kill him.

What really stands out about In Bruges is the great dialogue the actors have to play with. The script is pretty good and gets much funnier in the second half of the film. I’m not exactly sure how this film gets nominated in the screenplay category while The Wrestler, a much superior film does, but it is a solid effort. Colin Farrell’s character is especially funny and is given several unique scenes to display his somewhat morbid sense of humor. Harry, the boss played by Fiennes, is the highlight of the film, however. I’ve never really thought of Fiennes as funny, which may be why his work in this movie really stands out as hilarious… although it is weird to see him being called “Harry,” whom he has been trying to destroy for two films as Lord Voldemort.

In Bruges is a pretty funny character piece. It’s more of a dramedy than a full blown comedy… and the pacing is troublesome at times, especially the first act of the film. It picks up nicely though and I found it to be a pleasant surprise. It’s not a must see, but it’s worth watching for its humor and for a Colin Farrell performance actually worth watching.

Score: 6 out of 10 (Recommended)

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The Wrestler: Top 3 of 2008

February 15, 2009

I had pretty high hopes for The Wrestler. Its director is responsible for one of the most memorable films of the past decade with 2000’s Requiem For A Dream and the praise for Mickey Rourke’s performance in the film has been overwhelming, with a number of sources claiming him the favorite for Best Actor. I also had a couple of people whose film opinions I hold in high regard tell me it was their favorite movie of the year, so even though I quasi-hated Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain in 2006, The Wrestler had me quite excited to watch it.

When I heard that Darren Aronofsky was making a movie about a retired professional wrestler trying to deal with life after fame, I was already hooked, so it’s no surprise that I loved the story. I’d say it’s criminal that writer Robert Siegel (former Editor-In-Chief of The Onion) didn’t get a nomination, but I’ve only seen two of the five films nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category (Wall-E and In Bruges), so I’m not really sure. Regardless, the team involved here did more for character development within a couple months of Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s life than David Fincher and company could accomplish over eighty years in the life of Benjamin Button. No matter the case, anyone that can cause emotional resonance utilizing a dead beat professional wrestler who might as well be Hulk Hogan gets kudos from me.

Aronofsky has a tendency to make his presence overwhelmingly known in his projects. Pi was just flat out weird, Requiem For A Dream was a masterpiece, utilizing close-up vignettes for drug use and an unforgettably haunting and hypnotic score, and The Fountain might as well have been called Pretentious Shit. The director decides to take a more subtle approach with The Wrestler, displaying his uniqueness by filming the movie with a hand-held camera that gives it a documentary-like aesthetic. It’s almost like we’re taking a look at a couple of months of the life of a real person rather than watching a movie with fictional characters.

Mickey Rourke deserves all the praise he’s received for this film. As many have said, the role was built for him and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. They pretty much took Rourke’s life and paralleled it with Randy Robinson’s and then subbed out “acting” for “professional wrestling.” I still think Frank Langella might be the favorite for Best Actor, but I don’t think Rourke winning would be an upset at all. Marissa Tomei also earned a nod for Best Supporting Actress, and while she looks great at 40+ playing a stripper, her performance wasn’t one that people are going to remember years from now.

I really can’t say enough about how good this movie was. There are so many good scenes in it that I don’t want to waste my time describing each one… a couple of personal favorites are The Ram working in a deli interacting with customers and The Ram at a fan fest signing with minimal attendance looking around at the other fallen wrestlers and seeing a bit of himself in each one as the melancholy score plays in the background. I also loved the ending, which has received a few complaints for its ambiguity. I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all, however, and I said “Credits” two seconds before they started, so I clearly thought it was a perfect spot to end the film.

When all is said and done, The Wrestler stands as one of my three favorite films of 2008, right up there with Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. It’s without a doubt a must see, if not spectacular film, that will probably grow even stronger in viewers’ minds over time.

Score: 8.5/10 (Must Own/Potentially Classic)